Debates between Earl Howe and Baroness Hayman of Ullock during the 2019 Parliament

Wed 25th Oct 2023
Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments
Mon 23rd Oct 2023
Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments
Mon 18th Sep 2023
Mon 4th Sep 2023
Tue 18th Jul 2023
Thu 13th Jul 2023
Tue 11th Jul 2023
Mon 22nd May 2023
Mon 24th Apr 2023
Wed 22nd Mar 2023
Wed 15th Mar 2023
Mon 13th Mar 2023
Mon 27th Feb 2023
Mon 27th Feb 2023
Wed 22nd Feb 2023
Mon 28th Mar 2022
Elections Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 2 & Committee stage: Part 2

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Debate between Earl Howe and Baroness Hayman of Ullock
Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, said, significant changes have been made to improve the Bill while we have worked on it over the past 10 months—although I have to say that it is beginning to feel like a lifetime.

However, we are mainly looking at the two amendments in front of us—first, on whether local authorities should be allowed to meet virtually with hybrid technology. I commend the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, on her assiduous work in pressing this issue and continuing to bring it to the attention of your Lordships’ House. We find the Government’s response deeply disappointing. In many ways, I would like better to understand why they have dug their heels in on this issue, because I genuinely do not understand why there could not be a little flexibility. Local councillors can see that, in your Lordships’ House, we are able to take advantage of hybrid technology, so why is this refused to councillors? It could have been put in legislation with fairly strict reasons for its use, so that is disappointing. I genuinely do not understand why no progress whatever was made on this.

Moving on to progress, we welcome the amendment in lieu of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, on climate change and planning. I congratulate him on his work on this and on getting the Government to recognise that this is an important issue that needed an amendment to the Bill. We endorse the noble Lord’s proposals on how we can continue to take this forward.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, said, it is disappointing that, in a levelling-up Bill, neither child poverty nor health inequalities were included, because they are central to levelling up. On that, it is disappointing that the Prime Minister has chosen to remove the cap on bankers’ bonuses.

I thank everyone who took part and the noble Earl for his generosity in meeting to discuss these issues. We may be saying goodbye to the levelling-up Bill, but there is still much to do if we are to achieve levelling up in this country.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Pinnock and Lady Hayman of Ullock, for their respective remarks.

As I said earlier, I appreciate that my noble friend and other noble Lords beg to differ from the Government’s position on remote meetings of local authorities. However, the Government’s position rests on an issue of principle that has served local government well for over 50 years. The Local Government Act 1972 is clear that “attending” a council meeting means attending physically in order to be “present” at such a meeting. I appreciate that the Covid regulations saw us through some difficult and exceptional circumstances, but the democratic principle of face-to-face attendance of meetings at all tiers of government is important. There is a long tradition of local authorities meeting in person and, since the expiration of the temporary arrangements put in place during the Covid-19 pandemic, they have continued to do so without issue. Having said that, I am grateful to my noble friend for giving us fair warning that she expects to bring us back to these issues at a suitable point in the future.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, for welcoming the government amendment. I suggest to noble Lords that we should not underplay the effect of the Government’s amendment in lieu, which will mean that all national development management policies will give consideration to their impacts on climate change mitigation and adaptation while they are being developed and designated. I will take back for consideration the noble Lord’s suggestion about including targets in the Explanatory Notes.

Finally, in response to my noble friend the Duke of Montrose, I can tell the House that the Scottish Parliament granted legislative consent for relevant parts of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill yesterday, following the agreement with the Scottish Government that was mentioned in the House previously.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Debate between Earl Howe and Baroness Hayman of Ullock
Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, I have some amendments in this group. Amendment 1 concerns the timetable for when the levelling-up Statement should be published. I put on record that we are very happy with the noble Earl’s response and accept the Government’s arguments about that.

I also have the amendment on levelling-up funding. We are pleased that the Government have said they will take a new approach to the third round of the levelling-up fund, and that they have listened to the arguments in this House in Committee and on Report. We welcome the fact that the amendment in lieu has been tabled by the Government so that the Minister has a duty to lay before each House the Statement about the third round of the levelling-up fund within three months of Royal Assent.

I also have Amendment 199 on high-street funding, banks and post offices. We will just have to agree to disagree on this matter; I do not intend to press it any further.

I was pleased to hear the response to the noble Lord, Lord Foster, on rural-proofing and that the Government have tabled the amendment on having regard to the needs of rural communities. Rural communities often feel left out and forgotten, and more needs to be done to take account of that during any levelling-up and regeneration process. It is important that geographical disparities are taken account of.

I will not say much about my noble friend Lady Lister’s amendment on child poverty and health inequalities because she has laid it out very clearly, as have other noble Lords who have spoken. As others have said, if you are genuinely going to sort out disparities and level up, you really have to take into account health inequalities—they are the basis of so much—and child poverty is impacted by that as well. So it is disappointing that the Government have not gone further on this and recognised the difference that they could make. If my noble friend wishes to divide the House, she will have our strong support.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for their comments on the government Motions in this group and on the amendments that have been tabled. As regards Motion E1 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, about which she has just spoken, and which concerns round 3 of the levelling-up fund, there is little more that I can add to my earlier remarks. She may like to know, however, that policy development relating to round 3 remains ongoing and, for that reason, the Government cannot comment on the specifics of the statement at this time. Nevertheless, I assure the noble Baroness that we have published information on the GOV.UK website regarding allocations in round 1 and round 2 of the fund, and we would expect to do so again in this third round.

Turning to the issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and spoken to by other noble Lords, while I have spoken about our reasons for not accepting her amendment, I would not want the Government’s policy in both these important areas to go by default. I simply say to the noble Baroness that it is important to look not only at what the missions might be able to do—I have already described what our approach will be in that context—but, equally, at what the Government are doing on the ground.

It remains our firm belief that the best way to help families with children to improve their financial circumstances is through work. As I am sure she knows, because she is an expert in these areas and probably has the statistics in her head, we are supporting working people with the largest ever cash increase to the national living wage. We will spend around £276 billion through the welfare system in Great Britain in 2023-24, including £124 billion on people of working age with children. To help parents on universal credit who are moving into work or increasing their hours, the Government will provide additional support with upfront childcare costs. We will also increase universal credit maximum childcare costs. These issues are not ones the Government regard as trivial—quite the opposite; they are centre stage in the work the DWP and others are doing.

I repeat the undertaking I gave earlier to the noble Baroness. The first statement of levelling-up missions will contain the missions mentioned in the levelling up White Paper, including the mission to narrow the gap in healthy life expectancy and increase healthy life expectancy by five years. I hope she will regard that as evidence of the Government’s intent, even if we have to beg to differ on what ought to go on the face of the Bill.

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Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, I shall be very brief. This has been quite a long debate, and we have a number of votes at the end of it.

First, on the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, regarding NDMPs, we agree with her that the Government’s amendment is not sufficient to answer the concerns that were raised in Committee and on Report. If the noble Baroness wishes to divide the House, she will have our full support.

Secondly, on the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, on planning and climate change, we consider this an extremely important issue, as other noble Lords have mentioned. If he wishes to divide the House, he will have our full support.

On the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, on healthy homes, which he spoke to so eloquently—as did the noble Lord, Lord Young—we also believe that health needs to be at the centre of planning when making decisions about housing. If the noble Lord wishes to press this to a vote, he will have our full support.

We welcome the fact that there have been concessions on ancient woodland and offshore wind, and some concession for the noble Lord, Lord Best, on his amendment. We would have preferred to see mention of social housing, as well as affordable housing, in the Government’s Amendment 329A.

On the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, on floods, it is very important and the Government need to get a grip on whether people can get insurance—ideally through Flood Re—because we cannot have insurance with excess that is so huge that it makes the insurance pointless. We have a debate tomorrow on Storm Babet; I am sure these issues will be raised again then.

Finally, on the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, on planning fees, we believe that this is an important point that we need to continue to discuss. Therefore, if the noble Baroness wishes to test the opinion of the House, she will have our strong support.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, once again I am grateful to noble Lords for their comments and questions.

Motion L1, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, relates to national development management policies and the process by which they are made. We do not agree with the principle that the process for making national development management policies should be based on that for national policy statements. National development management policies will serve a broader purpose than national policy statements, which are used by Ministers to make planning decisions for major infrastructure projects, so it is right that their requirements should be suited to their purpose, not based on the provisions of a different regime.

That said, I cannot agree with the noble Baroness’s characterisation of Motion L. The parliamentary scrutiny proposals in Motion L go even further than the provisions for national policy statements. The NPS provisions refer to the House of Commons where these proposals refer to both Houses. The NPS provisions require the Secretary of State to respond to recommendations of a committee of either House before they can be made, while this Motion would require a vote in favour of the proposals if a committee of either House made recommendations about a draft policy. This Motion would limit the circumstances in which no consultation is necessary to those in the interests of public safety or national security. That would be too narrow for the exceptional circumstances in which we expect this provision to be used. Examples we have given—such as our changes during the pandemic offering protection to theatres that were temporarily vacant—would not have been able to be made with such a narrowly drafted provision. This is because, although the policy change was in response to the pandemic, it was not in the interests of public safety or national security itself. We do not think this part of the amendment is necessary, as NDMPs will be a programme of policies that we anticipate will be captured by the requirement to undertake statutory environmental assessment.

Motion N1 from the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, requires the Secretary of State to

“promote a comprehensive regulatory framework for planning and the built environment designed to secure the physical, mental and social health and well-being of the people of England by ensuring the creation of healthy homes and neighbourhoods”.

While the Government, as I have said on many occasions, support the principle raised by the noble Lord, I say again that these matters are already taken into consideration and addressed through existing systems and regimes. That includes through building safety, building regulations, the National Planning Policy Framework, the national design code and the national model design code. The creation of an additional regulatory framework would cut across these regimes. I know he said that was the whole point, but I contend that those regimes are already comprehensive, and the Government therefore cannot support his Motion.

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Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, with the leave of the House, in moving Motion Z I will also speak to Motions ZA, ZB and ZB1. As in the earlier group, I draw the attention of the House to the advice from the House of Commons authorities that Motion ZB1 is financially privileged.

The Government listened to the arguments made about local authorities opening their own childcare provision, as reflected in Amendment 239, which was carried on Report. While we did not feel that there was a legislative gap, we have proposed Amendments 239A to 239C in lieu. Amendment 239A removes restrictions on the powers of local authorities to provide their own childcare, as intended by Amendment 239, but does so in a way that is legally sound. Amendments 239B and 239C relate to the extent and commencement of Amendment 239A. On this basis, I hope that your Lordships will agree to these amendments in lieu.

On Report your Lordships also approved Amendment 240, which would require that a Minister publish an assessment of the impact of the enforcement sections of the Vagrancy Act 1824 on levelling up and regeneration. Once again, we have listened to noble Lords’ desire to see something tangible about the Vagrancy Act in the Bill. Given our commitment to the repeal and replacement of this Act, and because identifying, gathering and analysing the information will take significant time, we have agreed to publishing a report but propose that a year should be provided for this, instead of 90 days. To that end, we have tabled Amendments 240A to 240C in lieu, which commit the Government to providing the report within a year. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships will be able to support these amendments.

I turn now to the final issue in this group, as reflected in Amendment 241, which was also carried on Report. This amendment would require the Government to maintain a register of school and hospital buildings in serious disrepair, and to update the register every three months. The safety of our school and hospital buildings is of paramount importance. That is why we invest significant capital funding into improving the estates each year and provide targeted support on issues such as RAAC. We regularly and routinely collect and make available extensive data on the condition of schools and hospitals.

The proposed amendment would drive a number of unintended—and I would say unwanted—consequences. Most concerning is the burden it would place on the school and hospital estates sector and departments, given the volume of relatively minor issues that would require reporting, analysing and following up in order to maintain such a register, ultimately drawing focus away from the most serious issues that require additional support to keep our schools and hospitals safe. The amendment would also carry inevitable financial implications for both the NHS and school systems to collect and maintain such a register, at a time when we all recognise the importance of maximising the front-line impact of resources going into public services.

The House will therefore wish to note that the reason given by the other place for rejecting Amendment 241 is because of the costs that it would impose on public funds through new data collection requirements. In the light of the Commons reason, I trust and hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, will not wish to take the issue further and will instead be content to accept Amendment 241A. The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, has tabled an amendment in lieu that would require the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament a report on schools and hospitals in serious disrepair within 12 months, and every year thereafter. The Government already publish a wide range of information on the school and hospital estates as a matter of course. For example, on health, the annual Estates Returns Information Collection report contains detailed data on individual hospital condition and safety.

For schools, the department has already run two major condition data collections in recent years, made individual reports available to the sector, and published a summary of findings in 2021. In July, detailed data on all 22,000 schools within scope of the condition survey was deposited in the House Libraries and made available on the Parliament website. A third data collection is under way, covering all 22,000 schools and colleges in England. The Government have also published information about schools and hospitals with buildings confirmed as containing RAAC. The education department does not own or manage the estate, as I am sure she knows, so collecting and reporting additional information would have resource implications for both the department and the bodies responsible for school buildings, and take focus away from supporting schools with the most serious issues. Parliament is routinely updated on these issues already, and they are subject to frequent scrutiny and debate among colleagues. That will clearly continue to be the case, and the Government’s view is that the amendment is not required. I beg to move.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, I will speak briefly to thank the Minister for his introduction regarding the two amendments that were moved by the Front Bench here. The first was in my name, relating to childcare. We thank him for listening to and recognising our concerns, and thank the Government for tabling an amendment that does exactly what we asked for; we very much appreciate that. My noble friend Lady Taylor of Stevenage had an amendment down on vagrancy, and again, we are very pleased that the Government have tabled an amendment in lieu on the Vagrancy Act. I will say only that this was promised two years ago, so in our opinion the sooner that action is taken on this, the better.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, has an amendment in lieu on RAAC. The Minister is aware, as are other noble Lords, of increasing concerns about the number of schools, hospitals and in fact other buildings that have been affected by this. It is important that there is proper information regarding the extent of the problem, and that schools and hospitals, and other organisations which have buildings that are affected have the support that they need, because this is extremely concerning.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Debate between Earl Howe and Baroness Hayman of Ullock
Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone for introducing her amendment and for bringing it back at this stage. Her Land Use in England Committee wrote an excellent report on this, Making the Most out of England’s Land, with a number of recommendations for the Government. As she said, the Government have said that they will look at this. The question is: when and how is that actually going to happen? She made a very important point about the fact that the Government are looking to focus very much from a Defra point of view, whereas actually, if we are to address the wider aspect of land use and tackle many of the conflicting priorities, it has to be done across parties and across departments to be genuinely effective. We have to work across the House and across all departments to come out with something that will actually make a difference.

I confirm our full support for what my noble friend is trying to achieve with this, and I will be grateful if the Minister confirms that the Government are treating this as a priority, that we will see something sooner rather than later, and that the Government are also intending to work right across all departments and to work constructively across the House.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has once again highlighted the important issue of land use, and I am grateful to her for giving me the opportunity to set out the Government’s plans in this area. First, the Government agree with the intention behind the amendment. Major influences on the use of land must be considered in the round—that is completely accepted and indeed it is why Defra has been working closely with a number of other departments to develop the content of the land use framework for England, which will be published this year. The framework will provide a long-term perspective and, to pick up the point the noble Baroness made, it is supported by the latest advances in spatial data science. We have developed the evidence base needed to ensure that policy can make a virtue of the diversity of natural capital across the landscapes of England.

That said, the Government’s view is that it is neither necessary nor sensible to specify the framework’s scope and purpose in legislation at this stage. There is a very simple reason for that: our work on the framework needs to be open to the latest evidence and insights and indeed, if necessary, to change as our understanding continues to develop. However, I reassure the noble Baroness that the principles she has highlighted are very much in our minds as we approach this important task and that we look forward to engaging with her, and indeed everyone else with an interest, in due course. I hope that, with those reassurances, she will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

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Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, there are a number of quite disparate amendments in this group, so I will speak briefly to them.

The first is Amendment 281 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, to which I added my name, on a register of disrepair in schools and hospitals. This raises a very serious issue. She introduced it very clearly and in detail, so I will not repeat what she said other than to endorse her remarks. We are completely behind her amendment and what she is trying to achieve with it. If the noble Baroness wants to test the opinion of the House, she will have our strong support.

Turning to the other amendments, I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, is now in his place. His amendment, around creating a new partnership model for town centre investment zones, has not really been mentioned. We had quite a discussion about this in Committee, in which we expressed our support. I express that support again and urge the Government to work with the noble Lord on how this approach can be taken forward. We need to do something to support many of our town centres, and his suggestions are worth exploring.

My noble friend Lady Young spoke to the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, around local authorities publishing a list of publicly owned land which is suitable for community cultivation and environmental improvement. I totally support the principle of this; it seems like a sensible way forward to improve local growing and the environmental purposes of land.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, introduced the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, around reviewing the air transport sector. We must really think about our approach to this when we look at climate change. Obviously, we must support this important part of our economy. However, there is so much more to consider. I come back to this over and again: why is it so much cheaper to fly than it is to go by train? This has got to be at the core of how we approach this, particularly if you look at what the French Government have done regarding internal flights. It is something we must take a much stronger look at.

Finally, I was going to make the same point as the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, about surface water flooding. If we are going to pave over more of our towns and cities, we are going to have more of a problem with surface water flooding—it is just a matter of fact. I support the intention of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, to see what we can do to stop so many of the gardens in our towns and cities being paved over. It is not just about the aesthetics—although, obviously, they are lovely; there is a practical reason to consider this more carefully.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, Amendment 281 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, considers the important issue of school and hospital safety. It would require the Government to keep a register of schools and hospitals in serious disrepair. Nothing is more important than the safety of pupils, patients and staff in schools and hospitals. That is, I am sure, common ground between us across the House; however, it is our belief that the amendment is unnecessary. Furthermore, we think that it would not, in practice, have the effect that the noble Baroness intends. The Government provide significant funding and support for the upkeep of schools and hospitals, including additional support where there are issues that cannot be fully managed locally.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Debate between Earl Howe and Baroness Hayman of Ullock
Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, this has been a really important group for us to debate. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, for introducing it with his important Amendment 191, which I was very pleased to support. I have two amendments in this group: Amendment 275, under which a Minister must publish a green prosperity plan—I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, for her support on this—and Amendment 283, which defines adaption to and mitigation of climate change. There is a specific reason why I have put that amendment down, which I will come to.

My Amendment 275 says that:

“Within one year of this Act being passed, a Minister … must publish a Green Prosperity Plan”,


specifically to

“decarbonise the economy … create jobs, and … boost energy”.

This amendment and the others in the group are about how we consider climate change and the environmental and energy crises that we have been facing as a country. We need to look seriously at how we are going to dramatically reduce our emissions by 2030. We also believe that climate justice should be a priority. It is important that we can all agree on what action has to be taken to accelerate the benefits of nature restoration and recovery alongside this.

We believe that there should be a national mission to upgrade the energy efficiency of every home that needs it. This will help to lower people’s bills and reduce emissions. We must make sure that, if we are to change the way we heat our homes and how we manage our gas, electricity and oil, we have a different system that supports the reduction of emissions and looks at ways to meet our net-zero targets. We see this as an opportunity to create many thousands of new jobs and help the country to rebuild the economy. It gives us the opportunity to invest in manufacturing and factories—for example, to build batteries for electric vehicles—to develop a thriving hydrogen industry and to increase the manufacture of wind turbines here in the UK. We see this as a huge opportunity, and we also believe the UK should have the ambition to be a world-leading clean energy superpower.

My second amendment, Amendment 283, seeks to insert a new “Interpretation” clause, concerning the interpretation in the Bill of adapting to climate change and adaption to climate change. The reason for this is that, in the Bill, the words “adaptation” and “adaption” are both used. It is very important that there is no confusion about what is meant by adaption and what is meant by adaptation—they are two different terms but they seem to have been used fluidly within the Bill. Amendment 283 tries to clarify that. It may well be that the Government do not want to accept my amendment, but they might want to look at the wording in the Bill and see whether clarification could be brought through in another way.

Adaptation is incredibly important as we go forward. We know we have a strong framework for emissions reduction and planning for climate risks, as set up by the Climate Change Act 2008. However, we still need better resourcing and funding of adaptation, as it is going to be a critical part of supporting the country as we try to tackle the impacts we are seeing—very regularly now—of climate change. We think it is unacceptable not to do that, so we would like to see a clearer understanding of what is required for what we call “adaptation”—though it may well be called “adaption”. This needs to come together in the Bill in a clear and understandable way that will bring about the investment we need in this area.

This brings me to what the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, has brought forward in his amendment on wildfires; clearly that is an area where adaptation is going to be terribly important, as it will be with flooding—and we will debate that later in the Bill. One thing we know is that wildfires have brought an increasing threat to a wide range of interests across the country. We need a co-ordinated approach, and the noble Earl, in introducing his amendment, was very clear about why this was needed. We know that we have to mitigate the impacts of wildfires on people, property, habitats, livestock, natural capital, wildlife and so on, as the noble Earl explained. We also know from the recent terrible wildfires we have seen—such as that on Saddleworth Moor, as the noble Earl mentioned—that it is going to take decades for those areas to recover. We have to get systems in place to tell us how we manage that, how we avoid it and what we do when it happens. This is a levelling-up Bill, and the impacts of climate change often have an unequal effect on different citizens in this country. As part of the levelling-up agenda, we need to address this.

Finally, that brings me to the incredibly important amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, to which I was very pleased to add my name. The noble Lord, Lord Deben, talked passionately and eloquently about the importance of how we deliver this and how vital it is that we are able to do this. The noble Lord’s amendment would be an important step on the way to achieving this. If the noble Lord wishes to push it to a vote and test the opinion of the House, he will have our strong support.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, in this group of amendments we return to the crucially important issues surrounding climate change and the green agenda, about which we have heard strong views, and rightly so. Climate change presents clear risks to our environment and our way of life, which is why I am not embarrassed to claim that the Government have led the world in their ambition to reach net zero, and why we are committed to fostering the changes needed to reach that goal. That is the delivery that my noble friend Lord Deben spoke of.

However, what is crucial is that we do this in a way that is effective without being unnecessarily disruptive. That is where, I am afraid, I must take issue with Amendment 191 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Ravensdale and Lord Teverson, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, and my noble friend Lord Lansley. For the same reason, I need to resist Amendment 283 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock. I do so with regret.

The intention of these proposed new clauses—to set more specific legal obligations which bear upon national policy, plan-makers and those making planning decisions—is not at all the focus of my criticism. We all want to achieve the golden thread that the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, referred to. The problem is their likely effect, which would be to trigger a slew of litigation in these areas. That in turn could serve to hinder the action that we need to get plans in place to safeguard the environment that we all wish to protect. For example, Amendment 283 would mean that the Bill’s existing obligations on plans to address climate change mitigation and adaptation would have to be interpreted in the context of very high-level national objectives. That would not be a straightforward thing to do, because high-level objectives do not, in most cases, provide clear direction at the level of an individual district.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Debate between Earl Howe and Baroness Hayman of Ullock
Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, I want briefly to comment on the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick. She talked about her concerns about Clause 148 and its weak requirement regarding the devolved nations. She particularly talked about the fact that it is problematic for Northern Ireland, and we note that there are concerns about the regression risk that this part of the Bill could bring. She also mentioned the fact that the Scottish Government have expressed their opposition to the Bill on those grounds. In Committee on 18 May, the noble Earl stated that the UK Government were having

“discussions with the devolved Governments on how these powers should operate”.—[Official Report, 18/5/23; col. 447.]

We believe that the amendments tabled by my noble friend help to resolve the concerns expressed by requiring Ministers to secure the consent of a devolved Administration before setting EOR regulations within the competence of that Administration, rather than simply consulting them. We very much support the amendments in the name of my noble friend.

It is worth pointing out that this means that there has still been no movement regarding Scotland, and it would be good to know that those discussions are still ongoing to try to make some progress.

A concern to mention briefly on the government amendments is around those that relate to the habitats regulations. The Bill allows for changes to the existing regulations with only a vague non-regression commitment in Clause 147. I just point out that this is why I have Amendment 106 in group 5, which creates a robust non-regression test, and that is one reason I tabled that—just to tie the two groups together, so that the noble Earl has some frame of reference on where we are coming from on that. Having said that, if he can provide further clarity on the issues raised by my noble friend, I am sure we will be very grateful.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, I am, as ever, grateful to noble Lords who have spoken and, in particular, to the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, for the way in which she spoke to her amendments and for her experience in devolved matters generally. She will have heard that we consider that the Government’s amendments speak to the substance of her amendments and, in fact, go further in extending the powers to make EOR regulations for all of the devolved Administrations.

The Government consider it crucial that these powers are made available across the United Kingdom to allow for continued close co-operation and interoperability between environmental assessment regimes across the UK. Securing this ability to work together across the different jurisdictions reduces the risk of harmful divergence. This is particularly crucial for areas such as offshore wind, where minimising delay and cost is vital if we are to meet our environmental commitments and achieve energy security.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, spoke of these powers being imposed on devolved Administrations. The first point to make in that context is that there is no obligation or time limit under the powers for the devolved Administrations to use the powers that Part 6 would grant them. The powers would be exercisable at the discretion of the devolved Administrations if they chose to use them. However, these are powers that would allow devolved Administrations broad scope to implement their own new system of environmental assessment.

In addition, the model would mean that, where assessment is needed under both EOR and an existing EIA/SEA regime, whether in Scotland, England, Wales or Northern Ireland, the development or plan need satisfy only one of the regimes, avoiding the need for duplication. Without the ability to adopt EOR, the UK Government and the devolved Administrations would have no interoperability and gradually increasing divergence, and that could mean certain projects or plans requiring assessment under two separate regimes far into the future, which, as is obvious, could lead to a chilling effect on development of certain types and in certain locations, as well as cross-border plans. Devolved Administrations adopting these powers would not completely remove the risk of divergence, as the current powers model would allow devolved Administrations complete discretion on what their system of environmental assessment looks like, but it would retain the potential for continued alignment where this is considered beneficial.

The noble Baroness raised a number of points and questions about Northern Ireland, and I shall ensure that these are taken up at departmental level and that the department keeps in touch with her about the action being taken. I just pick up the issue she raised of the absence of an Executive in Northern Ireland. In the current situation, with the Assembly not sitting, Northern Ireland is clearly not in a position to provide legislative consent for the Bill, so in respect of Part 6, the UK Government propose to extend these powers to Northern Ireland on the same basis as that agreed with the Welsh Government. This is not a decision that the UK Government have taken lightly, but we believe it is the right approach in these circumstances, as it preserves the opportunity for reform for a future Executive in a way that preserves the unique situation on the island of Ireland.

Legislating in this way provides Northern Ireland with safeguards on the use of these powers that would ensure that the consent of relevant Northern Ireland departments was required if the UK Government wished to use the powers in Part 6 to legislate for matters within devolved legislative competence. Not extending the powers in this way would mean the loss of these safeguards, as well as the loss of the opportunity for the Northern Ireland Executive to benefit from these powers once the Executive have been restored.

I am conscious that the noble Baroness has sought to introduce amendments for each of the devolved Administrations. While the Government share the noble Baroness’s view that it would be best for each Administration to be placed on an even footing, at this stage the amendments provide the Scottish Government with concurrent powers, but on slightly different terms from those of Wales and Northern Ireland. However, we are continuing to engage with the Scottish Government on this issue and remain open to extending the same provisions to the Scottish Government to place each Administration on the same footing, should they agree to that. On the basis of discussions continuing, I hope that the noble Baroness will not feel the need to press her amendments.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Debate between Earl Howe and Baroness Hayman of Ullock
Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, I shall be very brief. I want to express our support for the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and to reiterate our concerns around audit and Oflog and how that will operate within its responsibilities. We need to ensure that there is a sufficient set-up to deal with the huge problems facing local authorities regarding audit. We know that some authorities have not had an audit for years, so this is clearly a real problem. We thank the noble Lord for tabling the amendments and hope that the Minister and the department will look carefully at his concerns and constructive suggestions, as we really need to resolve this issue.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, Amendments 32 and 33 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, seek to increase the transparency of CCAs. Greater functions and funding must come with strong accountability, but that must go hand in hand with decisions being made at the most local level possible. I can deal with this quite briefly and, I hope, to the noble Lord’s satisfaction.

As the Bill is drafted, a CCA’s audit committee can appoint three independent members, should it wish to, but it should be a matter for the CCA to decide exactly how many above one. The regulations that will establish the combined county authorities will set out the audit committee arrangements. They will provide that, where practicable, the membership of the audit committee reflects the political balance of the constituent councils of the combined county authority. Membership may not include any officer from the combined county authority or the combined county authority’s constituent councils. The regulations will provide for audit committees to appoint at least one independent person.

As regards transparency, in addition, Part VA of the Local Government Act 1972 provides powers to require the publication of reports of a committee or sub-committee of a principal council, including audit committees. Schedule 4 to this Bill already includes a consequential amendment to apply Part VA to CCAs.

I hope that that is helpful. The noble Lord has already kindly said that he will not press his amendment, but I hope that what I have said will reassure him.

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Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, one thing that we have heard in the debates in Committee and today is that councillors are a vital part of our local democracy; they represent the needs of their residents and they work to improve outcomes for their local communities. But it is also important that any good decision-making is done by people who reflect their local communities and bring a range of experience, backgrounds and insight. As we have heard, by law, councillors have to attend meetings in person at the moment. We have also heard how important Zoom and Teams were for councils to continue to meet and the public to continue to take part during lockdown and the pandemic. It also brought people together and involved more people than previously in many cases.

We debated at length in Committee the benefits of continuing to allow virtual attendance at council meetings. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, thoroughly introduced that when she spoke to her amendment, and I am very happy to support her in what she is trying to do. Unfortunately, the Government withdrew this ability. We know that it supports a large range of people, as the noble Baroness laid out: the parents of young children, carers, disabled people and people with long-term illnesses. It enables them to come forward and represent their communities and encourages wider public participation, which is surely a good thing.

When we think about access to participation, why would the Government not lower barriers to that participation? Why can we not have virtual participation in council meetings as an option? We think that councils should have the flexibility to decide for themselves whether this is a useful tool that they can use. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, also mentioned, as have others, the option that we have in this House for virtual participation by those with disabilities and health issues. As others have asked, why at the very least can we not have the same dispensation for local councils that we have here in this House? The Government need to look at this again. If the noble Baroness wishes to test the opinion of the House, we will support her.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, this amendment seeks to replicate the situation created by the time-limited regulations that the Government made during the pandemic using powers in the Coronavirus Act 2020 that gave local authorities the flexibility to meet remotely or in hybrid form. Those regulations expired on 7 May 2021, and since that date all councils have reverted to in-person meetings. The Covid regulations, if I may refer to them in that way, were welcomed when they were issued for very good reasons, but they were nevertheless reflective of a unique moment in time, when a response to exceptional circumstances was needed. That moment has now passed, and the Government are firmly of the view that democracy must continue to be conducted face to face, as it has been for the last two years and for most of history prior to the pandemic.

Noble Lords have argued with some force as to the benefits of meeting remotely, and I completely understand why those arguments should be put forward. In the end, however, they are arguments based on one thing alone—expediency. With great respect, those arguments miss the point.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, I greatly respect the noble Lord, but it is Report and I hope he will understand that point—but I am also coming on to the very point that he has raised. He is absolutely right about the expectations of the public.

I suggest that the point at the heart of this issue lies in one of the core principles of local democracy, which is that citizens are able to attend council meetings in person and to interact in person with their local representatives. To allow for a mechanism that denies citizens the ability to do this, ostensibly on grounds of convenience, is in fact to allow for a dilution of good governance and hence a dilution of democracy in its fullest sense.

Councils take decisions that can fundamentally alter the lives of people. Where an elected authority comes together to impose such changes, it should be prepared to meet in the presence of those whose lives are affected. I shall exaggerate a little to make a point, and I do not mean to cause offence to anyone—

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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We have talked about having the same as here. We all meet together, but other people can come in.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Debate between Earl Howe and Baroness Hayman of Ullock
Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, I just want to say that we also welcome these amendments and that I support everything that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, said.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble and learned Lords, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd and Lord Hope of Craighead, as well as to my noble friends the Duke of Montrose and Lady O’Neill, in addition to noble Lords opposite.

The levelling-up missions have been set by the UK Government but outcomes are a shared interest for the whole of the UK. We fully recognise that some of the missions cover areas where public services are devolved. The purpose of the missions is not to alter existing areas of responsibility but rather to align and co-ordinate how different areas of government work towards a common goal. As I have mentioned, work is already under way between officials in the UK Government and devolved Administrations to explore collaborative work on various missions.

However, what I want to stress is the point well made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, about working together across the union. We are committed to working with the devolved Administrations to align policy, and towards a goal shared by everyone: to reduce geographic disparities across all of the UK. These amendments provide further assurance of that commitment by making it explicit and binding in the Bill.

To pick up a further point raised by the noble and learned Lord, we are taking specific action in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, including putting local voices at the heart of decision-making through the UK shared prosperity fund, launching an innovation accelerator in Glasgow City Region and establishing a UK national academy to provide a first-class education to all children in the UK.

My noble friend the Duke of Montrose spoke about establishing a framework. My best response to that is that one of the benefits of devolution is that it allows local places to take tailored approaches to tackling common challenges, enabling experimentation and innovation. We want to do more to bring together evidence and insights from across the UK, learning from our different approaches and experiences, so that we can improve our collective evidence base about what works and what does not work in different contexts. That, to my mind, is a win-win and it could be described as a desire to establish, over time, a framework that works for everybody. Ultimately, working together to improve our collective evidence base will help us all deliver better outcomes for people across the UK.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Debate between Earl Howe and Baroness Hayman of Ullock
Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, I start by thanking my noble friend Lady Hayter for her very detailed and clear explanation of the concerns felt by a number of noble Lords about why this clause is in the Bill at all. I thank the noble Earls, Lord Caithness and Lord Lytton, for their very detailed knowledge and perspective from their professional point of view; that was extremely helpful and I think this is a very important debate.

I added my name to the clause stand part notice because we are also extremely concerned by the wording of Clause 213 as currently drafted. As we have heard, it provides a power for the Secretary of State to instigate a review of RICS at any time and with very few limits in terms of scope, rationale or process. At the same time, it fails to set out any related statutory protections for RICS or for the chartered surveying profession more broadly. Our concerns stem from the fact that this seems a very significant step for a Government to take—to actually create powers to instigate reviews of an independent, member-funded institution, which does not itself, as we heard, exercise any statutory powers. Noble Lords have said they are concerned that this could risk creating a perception of RICS’s inability to act independently and in the public interest. As the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, said, it has nothing to do with either levelling up or regeneration and could set a highly unusual precedent for any other royal chartered body in the future.

We have heard about the independent review by the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, and the previous review mentioned by my noble friend. She went into the detail of what the independent reviews have said. Also, recommendation 14 of the report by the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, required an independent review of RICS to take place every five years. My noble friend said that it has agreed to do that even more frequently, every three years, so I do not really understand what the Government’s concerns are. It strikes me that, despite the concerns the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, laid out about recent issues within RICS, it has taken concerns raised extremely seriously, has accepted the recommendations in this report and is amending the RICS charter and by-laws to reflect the recommendations in full, subject to the approval of the Privy Council.

So my first question to the Minister is: why do the Government feel the need to interfere in this process? RICS itself, having accepted the recommendations in the review, is looking to ensure that it is held accountable in a transparent, orderly and appropriate manner, so I genuinely do not understand why the Government feel they need to legislate, as other noble Lords have said. It would be extremely helpful if the Minister could properly explain.

I also found it very concerning to hear from my noble friend Lady Hayter that there do not seem to have been any recent meetings between RICS and the Government. Can the Minister confirm that and explain what meetings have been held to discuss this and when? It does seem quite an extraordinary step. We support either the removal or the amendment of this clause so that it aligns with the wording of recommendation 14 of the review of the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, if it is going to stay in here. Surely the regulation of professions should be overseen by independent governance and decision-making that uphold the public interest and also guard against any risk of improper interference. Can the Minister explain why this clause is in the Bill? Will he also comment on the suggestion of hybridity, because this is extremely concerning?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful for the discussions my noble friend Lady Scott and I have had with the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, prior to this debate. I appreciate that they and others have hesitations and reservations around this clause; however, I hope I can persuade the Committee that those reservations should not be given weight.

The Government consider that Clause 213 should remain in the Bill because retaining the Secretary of State’s power in legislation to initiate reviews demonstrates that the Government are committed to supporting RICS in regaining and retaining its reputation after some very serious public failings in 2018-19. The clause also gives the Secretary of State discretion to set specific matters for the independent reviewer to consider that are connected to its governance and effectiveness. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, said that there was no rationale for this. The provision is to ensure that a review could specifically include issues that become a public concern, such as providing leadership to the market for the benefit of consumers, rather than always seeking to satisfy members.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, indicated that she viewed the clause as interfering with an independent, free-standing institution. The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, made a similar point. While the clause clarifies the Secretary of State’s power to initiate a review, it would create no power to intervene in the workings of RICS, so I disagree with the premise that Clause 213 interferes with the independence of RICS. Indeed, the clause is clear in clarifying the independence of any proposed reviewer and, with regard to the review itself, mandates only the remit and a requirement to publish, and not, for instance, how the review is undertaken.

I point out to the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, that the power conferred by the clause is strictly limited. The Secretary of State would be required by the clause to publish the independent reviewer’s report but, as he mentioned, the Government are not legislating to act on the review’s outcomes or the independent reviewer’s report, because we cannot, as he said, pre-empt any findings or recommendations. Should the Government require any legislative powers to enact any of the recommendations from a review, we will need to return to Parliament for permission. Once again, this approach will ensure RICS’s ability to operate independently from government while strengthening its accountability to Parliament. The noble Earl asked whether any report would be made directly to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. The answer is no: the report would be independent and the Secretary of State is simply required to publish it.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, said that there would be no reason for the Secretary of State to establish an inquiry under the terms of this clause. RICS is uniquely influential across construction sectors and their links with financial service markets. It is the sole body for bestowing chartered surveyor status in the UK and its reputation took a big hit as a result of the failings of 2018-19, which, given its unique role in these matters, is a very serious issue. We cannot and should not gloss over those failings. Historically, RICS took a very limited view of providing leadership to the market for the public good, being constrained by its internal practices and policies, such as on EWS1 forms, and this contributed to difficulties for leaseholders in selling their flats.

My noble friend Lord Caithness said that the Government do not need this power: he asked what the point was of including the clause. In this clause, we are setting out the scope of any review, and this should act as a reassurance as to the limits of what the Secretary of State is empowered to do. I say again: RICS’s independence of working is not in question. At the same time, the Government are signalling the importance we attach to RICS in protecting consumer interests through its guidance and standards, as well as the regulatory functions it undertakes across the market, improving and managing the built environment and land.

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Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill creates the powers for the Government to amend retained EU law and will remove the special status of retained EU law in the UK. On 17 May, the House agreed a government amendment to replace the previously proposed sunset of retained EU law in the Bill with a list of retained EU law for revocation at the end of 2023. This provides clarity to the House and certainty for business by making it clear which legislation will be revoked. Powers in the Bill that allow us to continue to amend retained EU law remain, so further regulation can be revoked or reformed in the future. This will mean that we still fully take back control of our laws and end the supremacy and special status of retained EU law by the end of 2023.

As noble Lords will be aware, the REUL Bill had Third Reading in this House this afternoon. Given that both Bills are still passing through Parliament, the Government are working through what the interactions are between them. I do not think it appropriate to amend the Bill in this way, but I will commit to writing to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, by the end of this year to set out the interaction between the two Bills. I hope that is helpful.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for that very helpful response. He has completely taken on board the point that I am trying to make, and I appreciate that. A letter explaining exactly how it will all work together by the end of the year will be extremely helpful. I thank the Minister very much, and I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Debate between Earl Howe and Baroness Hayman of Ullock
Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for introducing these government amendments. We have no problem at all with them. They seem fairly straightforward in what they want to achieve, but I would like to make the point that this is going to help provide only a small number of homes. I wonder what estimate the Government have made of the number of homes this will provide and what the demand is for this sort of housing. It would be quite interesting.

We are concerned about the number of houses being built, full stop, particularly since the Government abandoned their mandatory housing target. We feel that this Bill should be used to help the Government to concentrate on providing sufficient quality housing that includes both affordable-to-buy and social housing. Perhaps the Government could then bring forward an amendment on properly defining “affordable housing”; that would be a very useful amendment to see going forward.

As I said, I have absolutely no problem with this; I am quite happy to support the government amendments. However, we feel that the Government need to balance their interest in progressing this with their progress in meeting their stated target of 300,000 new homes.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Best, and both noble Baronesses, for their comments and questions. The noble Lord, Lord Best, is perhaps this House’s foremost expert on housing matters, saving my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham who is now looking at me.

To answer for now the question put by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on the number of self-build and custom-build houses that we expect to flow from this, it is very difficult to estimate. We do think that those categories of housing have a definite place in the system. If I can enlighten myself, and her, further, I will be happy to do so. I hope she will have gained a sense that these amendments are designed to remove the barriers that have been identified in this area; certainly, we fully expect that to happen having engaged with the sector.

As regards a definition of affordable housing, I think that will have to be a long debate for another day—although we have touched on that subject before during these Committee proceedings.

As regards the question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, I think the instance that she cited will be addressed, in part at least, by Amendment 281CC. What we want to achieve in that amendment is that, where you have a register of self-build and custom-build applications that have not been discharged within the three-year compliance period, that demand will not dissipate after this time but will roll over. I will, however, write to her about enforcement on these particular applications and clarify that.

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Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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Consolidation in this area of the law is immensely complex. Frankly, we do not know the full extent of the relevant planning provisions that must be considered in any common consolidation exercise because the exercise has not been commenced.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My apologies, but if it is that complex, is it not more likely that mistakes could be made, making it even more concerning that something could just be repealed or revoked without full comprehension or sufficient time? It is quite concerning.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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The noble Baroness should not be concerned, if I may suggest, as I shall go on to try to explain, because I have a little bit more to set out for the Committee. The power does not allow the changing of the terms of devolution once given effect in law, nor does it allow any changes to what planning powers can be conferred on any area as part of such a deal.

Finally on the amendment, I reiterate that in relation to the planning powers of mayors, there is no intention to remove the powers of district councils through devolution deals. I therefore hope I have persuaded the noble Lord that, as expressed, the amendment is not necessary.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Debate between Earl Howe and Baroness Hayman of Ullock
Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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We believe the problem to be quite considerable. I do not have statistics in front of me, but I will undertake to consult the department and see whether I can put some flesh on these bones, if the noble Baroness and others would find that helpful.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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On that point, it would be incredibly useful to have some sort of evidence base for us to consider. Can the Minister ask the department for that?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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Yes. These clauses have not just been dreamed up out of the blue.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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I am sure that they have not.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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We have received representations from a number of local authorities on the difficulties that they encounter and the sheer time that it takes to process information that does not conform to their systems.

As I was about to say, where the provider of information has a reasonable excuse, information cannot be refused. Planning authorities will be under a duty to accept and fully consider this information, so those with a reasonable excuse are not disadvantaged. Where information is initially refused by a planning authority, the clause provides the discretion to accept a compliant resubmission.

In summary, this clause will ensure that, by default, information received will be usable for all of the purposes to which planning authorities need it to be put. This will make the system more efficient, enabling planning authorities to work faster and focus on planning rather than data entry. That is the main point.

I turn next to Clause 81. Outdated and expensive software is one of the barriers that local authorities face to achieving more efficient ways of working in the planning process. Systems do not work with one another, forcing manual re-entry of information while locking that information away in formats that are not reusable. Clause 81 is essential for ensuring that planning authorities can benefit from the changes in this chapter through being supported by the right software, which can process standardised data.

The intent behind Clause 81 is to ensure the provision of software that is compatible with planning data requirements, so software approval requirements will follow on from the development of data standards set under Clause 78.

Our intention is to focus on exploring software that enables better availability of information and unlocks the ability to produce better tools for planning authorities. It is therefore not our intention to require the approval of all planning data software. We will continue working with planning authorities and the technology sector to determine when and where the use of this power will most benefit the planning system. In summary, this clause is essential for delivering effective, high-quality systems which the public rightly expect of government at all levels. I commend it to the Committee.

Amendment 181, in the name of my noble friend the Duke of Montrose, relates to Clause 83, as he explained, and aims to make public the result of engagement between the UK Government and devolved Administrations. I need first to explain how this amendment impacts on the planning data section of the Bill. It is important to understand what is in scope of Clause 83 in relation to the devolved Administrations.

As it stands, the only matters within devolved competence that planning data regulations could apply to would be Part 6 of the Bill, on environmental outcomes reports, or EORs. As such, provisions relating to consultation with the devolved Administrations must be read alongside the wider EOR clauses.

As set out in Committee in the other place, the Government are continuing to work with the devolved Administrations to understand whether there is scope to extend the EOR powers to provide a shared framework of powers across the UK. Once those discussions have concluded, the Government will bring forward any necessary amendments to both Part 6 and Part 3 to reflect the agreed position between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations. I reassure my noble friend and noble Lords that, in bringing forward the new system of environmental outcomes reports, the Government are committed to respecting the devolution settlements.

In answer to my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, our discussions at this stage are with the devolved Administrations rather than with, for example, the Scottish Parliament. I hope noble Lords will agree that we should not be required to make public the results of confidential policy discussions between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations. For all these reasons, I hope that my noble friend will accept that his amendment is unnecessary.

Amendment 182, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, seeks to ensure that the Secretary of State has consulted local authorities before establishing planning data regulations. Local authorities’ input on the new data requirements is of course important as we look to transition from a largely document-based planning system to one that is data-driven.

However, I reassure noble Lords that the intention of this amendment has already been built into the approach that the department has taken to design and test the new planning data requirements. As I have emphasised, the Government’s policy aim through planning data regulations is to create consistency on a national level. This includes the way local authorities process and publish planning data and will ensure that they are supported by suitable software to meet the new requirements.

Since 2019, we have been working with local authorities to test potential new requirements, such as data standards. This has provided valuable insights on the views of local authorities and the support that they will require to implement the new data requirements. We will continue this collaborative approach to establish planning data regulations.

Local authorities are the experts in the needs of their local areas, and these local views will form the basis of our national strategy around planning data, which these regulations will establish. We will continue to work collaboratively with local authorities, through running pilots and pathfinder projects, to gather our insights and design the new requirements.

I will bring another point to noble Lords’ attention. Planning data regulations under Clauses 78 and 80 will concern the form of planning data to be processed and published by local authorities. The planning information that these regulations will address will already be part of the planning system.

Given the collaborative approach that we are already taking to design the new requirements that will inform planning data regulations, I hope that I have been able to reassure the noble Baroness that local authorities’ views have been, and will continue to be, central to any planning data regulations that will be brought forward.

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Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I can only supplement what the Bill says by saying that we do not intend to introduce any requirement for approval without the appropriate exploratory work and engagement with local authorities.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank everyone who has taken part in the debate. I thank the Minister for his customarily very detailed and helpful response. We talked briefly about the evidence base behind these clauses. It would be helpful, as he suggested, to have that provided. It would also be useful to know how up to date the information in that evidence base is.

Regarding Clause 81, will the Government support the changes they are proposing to local authorities to update their software with the resources to enable them to do so? It is pretty expensive, and we know that local authorities are not exactly flush at the moment. It will be important for there to be proper funding and resources for local authorities that need to change their software.

It was good to have the further clarification that the Minister gave to the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, just now that the Secretary of State would not have to approve all software. The Minister said that this is the intention. Unfortunately, as has just been said, that intention is not clear at all in the wording. I suggest that he mentions to his department and to officials that the wording, both in the Bill and in the Explanatory Notes, could perhaps be revisited to make that really clear, because many local authorities are worrying a lot about the implications of that wording. Perhaps a slight change might resolve some of the concerns.

Finally, my noble friend Lady Wilcox has now left, but she asked me to point out very politely to noble Lords that, in May 2020, the Welsh Assembly became the Senedd and they are now the Welsh Government.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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Through the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, I apologise for any misspeak that I may have committed. I also take on board the points she just made about costs in particular.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Debate between Earl Howe and Baroness Hayman of Ullock
Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. I remind the Committee that the Coronavirus Act 2020 contained numerous measures which were intentionally —and, in the Government’s view, rightly—time-limited as they were introduced in an emergency at great speed. The local authority remote meetings regulations arising from that Act gave local authorities the flexibility to meet remotely or in hybrid form. Since their expiry, all councils have reverted to in-person meetings and local government is back to how it operated pre-Covid and working effectively.

All three amendments in this group propose in different ways a relaxation of the rules relating to meetings held by local councils. Amendment 158, tabled by my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, leans directly into the regulations that expired on 7 May 2021, using powers in the Coronavirus Act 2020. In a related vein, Amendment 310, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lansley, aims to allow planning committee meetings of local authorities to take place virtually, as well as making related provisions for public access to meetings and remote access to meeting documents. Amendment 312D, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, is a probing amendment on a similar theme.

I have noted the powerful contributions made in this debate but I fear that I must give my noble friends and the noble Baronesses, Lady Taylor and Lady Hayman, a disappointing answer at this stage. The Government are of the view that physical attendance is important for delivering good governance and democratic accountability. As we in this House may recognise, there are clear benefits to democratic representatives debating and voting on matters in person rather than at the end of a video call. The nature of debate is different, and the nature of interaction is different, in a positive sense. There are benefits to the—

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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These amendments do not preclude that, but give an option. Does the noble Earl not think that having that option would be a benefit?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I completely appreciate that, but I ask the noble Baroness to hear me out. There are benefits, which we would all recognise, to the side-discussions that are facilitated by being physically next to colleagues, and these are not the only considerations. It is worth my reminding the Committee that there is no restriction on in-person council meetings being filmed or webcast to allow the public to view proceedings remotely. Indeed, the Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014 extended full rights for the press and public to record and broadcast council meetings.

I have listened carefully to my noble friends and to noble Lords opposite, who have argued, often from first-hand perspectives, for the current legislation to be changed. I am afraid that the most that I can do at this stage is to say that we will keep the matter under review, and I undertake that we will do so.

My noble friend Lord Lansley, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Scott of Needham Market and Lady Hayman of Ullock, asked me about the current position on the call for evidence and the government response. Conversations are continuing across government and as soon as possible after those conversations are concluded, we will publish a government response to the call for evidence, which will set out our intentions. However, for the time being, I must resist all three of these amendments.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Debate between Earl Howe and Baroness Hayman of Ullock
Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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I am finding some of this slightly confusing, so I wonder whether the noble Earl could clarify something. Is he confirming, first, that district councils can be constituent members, and not just non-constituent members? Secondly, did he just say that all district councils will be able to be members? I would just like clarification.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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It may be helpful if I cover the issue of district councils in a moment when I come to Amendments 155 and 156. I will do my best when I do so.

Amendment 127A, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, addresses the requirements in relation to public consultations on proposals to change a combined county authority. We are in complete agreement that public consultation on a proposal to change a combined county authority is important. However, the amendment questions an important part of the safeguard that Clause 46 has in place to ensure that such a consultation is sufficient.

I will explain. As the provision is currently written, the Secretary of State must carry out a public consultation on changing a combined county authority unless three factors are met: first, that a proposal has been prepared under Clause 45; secondly, that a public consultation on the proposal has been carried out and a summary of it submitted to the Secretary of State; and, thirdly, that the Secretary of State considers that no further consultation is necessary—namely, that the consultation which has been carried out is sufficient. The amendment, as I take it, probes the process involved in the third factor. I tried my best to cover that in the letter I sent to all noble Lords who spoke in our previous Committee session.

In essence, the issue here is that the Secretary of State, in deciding whether a prior consultation has been sufficient or insufficient, has to look at several things: what the consultation consisted of; whether it followed the Cabinet Office guidance for public consultations sufficiently well; and, in that regard, whether it covered the necessary groups of people that it should cover, which is one of the principles set out in the Cabinet Office rules. So the public consultation would involve not only residents but key stakeholders, such as district councils, local businesses, public sector bodies, and voluntary and community sector organisations. A summary of those responses has to be presented to the Secretary of State when the proposal is submitted, together with any amendments that the proposing councils wish to make to the proposal in the light of the consultation. So the consideration the Secretary of State has to undertake is a combination of making sure that the principles laid down for consultations have been followed and looking at the evidence that has been presented. I hope that is of help to the noble Baroness.

I turn now to Amendments 155 and 156, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, which have similar effects, as he explained. Amendment 155 would remove the ability of a combined authority to resolve to allow non-constituent members voting rights on certain matters. Amendment 156 would apply the same restriction to a combined authority’s associate members. Both non-constituent and associate members are non-voting members by default, but we have enabled the combined authority to give them voting rights on most matters, should they wish to do so. For example, a combined authority may have provided for there to be a non-constituent member of a neighbouring council to enable their input on matters which may have cross-boundary effects.

I listened with care, as I always do, to the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, who expressed some severe reservations about this idea. However, it is entirely possible that a combined authority may have provided for an associate member—for example, a local business leader—to enable their input on matters which may have an impact on businesses in the combined authority’s area.

The combined authority may wish to maximise this input by allowing both non-constituent and associate members to vote on such relevant matters. The process for doing this would be set out in the combined authority’s local constitution, with the decision being made by the authority. As I have alluded to, there is a good example of this. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, expressed the view that district councils should be allowed a seat at the table and a vote. The Government have allowed for this to happen, albeit not in the way that the noble Lord has suggested, but as a non-constituent member.

We will be coming to a later group, consisting partly of Amendment 125A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, when we can perhaps discuss the issue of district councils in a little more depth. But it is also one of the topics that I suggest to noble Lords we cover in the round-table discussion which I proposed in our last Committee session, and which is now in the course of being arranged.

I should add that, very importantly, the decision by a combined authority to give any non-constituent members and/or associate members voting rights could be scrutinised by the authority’s overview and scrutiny committee to ensure due process is being followed. I suggest to the noble Lord that what we are proposing will not be without checks and balances.

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Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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Well, I note the noble Lord’s scepticism, which is long-standing, and can only say that I will relay his comments to the appropriate quarter.

I hope that the explanations I have given will be helpful to noble Lords opposite and that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, will feel able to withdraw her Amendment 92. As always, I would of course welcome conversations outside the Chamber if she feels those would be useful.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, I will be brief as I think everyone is looking forward to the dinner break. I thank the Minister for his very thorough response to my amendments and for his offer at the end. That is extremely helpful and I appreciate it.

I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for supporting my amendments, which is much appreciated. I will make just one suggestion: if the Government are genuinely committed to levelling up transport in the north, could the next stage of HS2 start from the north and then work down? But at the moment, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Debate between Earl Howe and Baroness Hayman of Ullock
Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, I listened carefully to the noble Baroness. Although some of her questions can be dealt with quite easily via a letter, it might be helpful to her and other noble Lords if we had a round-table session to explore some of the broader questions in greater depth. As she rightly said, considerable ramifications emerge from some of these questions, and I think they would be usefully dealt with in a conversational format, with officials present. So, if that idea appeals to noble Lords, I would be happy to arrange it.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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I thank the Minister. We would very much welcome that; it would be extremely helpful. I will finish by wishing the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, a very happy birthday.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Debate between Earl Howe and Baroness Hayman of Ullock
Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, as we have heard, this group of amendments is related to consultants and the Government’s appointment of levelling-up directors. Specifically, Amendment 51, in the name of Baroness Taylor of Stevenage, would require the Government to publish an estimate of how much local authorities have spent on consultants in relation to Part 1 of the Bill. I fear that requiring local authorities to report in this way would be disproportionate and unnecessary, but let me explain why.

The new burdens doctrine, established and maintained by successive Governments, requires all Whitehall departments to justify why new duties, powers, targets and other bureaucratic burdens should be placed on local authorities, as well as how much these policies and initiatives will cost and where the money will come from to pay for them. This provision already ensures that the Government must properly consider the impact of their policies, legislation and programmes on local government and fully fund any new burdens arising.

Further, local authorities are already bound by the Local Government Transparency Code, which mandates local authorities to publish data on all expenditure over £500 in open and accessible formats. I will come back to that point in a second, but I have a great deal of sympathy with the points made by the noble Baroness about expenditure by central government on consultants.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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Will the Minister clarify something? When he says that the Government fully fund any new burdens, does that mean that the Government are reimbursing local authorities for the cost of creating their bids?

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Debate between Earl Howe and Baroness Hayman of Ullock
Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, for tabling this amendment. It is really interesting, and I was very interested in what he had to say about the possibilities this opens up. It is important to encourage the Government to consider how automation and robots can help, not hamper, the levelling-up agenda, and how they can be part of making a difference. Automation and robotics can bring enormous possibilities to improve Britain’s productivity and boost the national economy. This is clearly a really important part of what underpins the White Paper and its objectives, but it will be realised only if the Government can actually harness that potential.

There have been ad hoc announcements relating to robotics. For example, Defra has promised new funding for agriculture and horticulture automation and robotics. However, what we do not have is an overarching strategy to ensure that the benefits of this kind of technological development can be felt equally across the board, and there are so many different areas that noble Lords referred to where this can be used.

Similarly, it seems that there is no concerted effort to negate the harmful effects of automation on the future of work. Workers are rightly concerned when they hear about automation coming into the businesses and factories in which they work. That is partly because, for too long, many workers have been at the wrong end of automation and have suffered as a result of their labour being casualised. It is really important that this be addressed, so I would be interested to hear if the Minister has an update on steps following the 2022 Future of Work review. If the Minister commented on how that could take forward robotics and automation in the workforce, that would be very helpful.

Having said that, our ambition for automation and robotics should extend far beyond just negating any negative impacts. The Government should be considering how they can make the UK a destination of choice for investment in these emerging technologies. It was interesting to hear the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, say that we are in a really low position in this regard. I was quite surprised by that, because I have always thought of us as an inventive country and society. There is ground to be made up here, and it seems that, unfortunately, a lack of skills is presenting a common barrier. As announced, the Labour Party believes that a “Skills England” body should be set up to address the current skills shortages. There should be a national effort to upskill Britain, which would allow us to meet the future challenges of automation and other emerging trends in our economy. Will the Government consider whether replacing the Unit for Future Skills would allow automation and robotics to better support the levelling-up agenda?

Finally, any prosperity that results from emerging technologies in the UK needs to be distributed a long way beyond just the south-east of England, which, unfortunately, is where it is mainly focused at the moment. As part of the levelling-up agenda, it is important that these emerging technologies, skills training and where businesses are deciding to invest are properly monitored, and that local authorities become part of that. The noble Baroness spoke earlier about the importance of working with local authorities on other parts of the levelling-up agenda. Engaging with local authorities on future opportunities to invest in automation and robotics will be really important if we are to spread the benefit and make the most of automation and robotics for the future of our economy.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, Amendment 43A, in the name of my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond, would oblige the Government to publish a report that considers establishing a taskforce to help increase effective use of robotics and automation and consider the impact on regional disparities. I am grateful to my noble friend for bringing us to this important set of issues, which have major implications for the levelling-up agenda.

It is perfectly true that the UK lags behind the global average when it comes to adopting robotics technology, and this is holding back UK manufacturing productivity. There are, of course, shining exceptions to that general statement. The nuclear fusion cluster around Culham in Oxfordshire has been described as the UK’s Silicon Valley for nuclear fusion robotics and will play a key role in maintaining fusion power plants. The UK Atomic Energy Authority’s RACE programme is at the forefront of developing robotic technology. Nevertheless, we are ranked the lowest in the G7 for robot density and 24th globally.

What are the barriers to adoption? The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, put her finger on one of the main ones, which is technical skills. We lack those technical skills. However, apart from skills, there are three others that I am afraid have held us back: leadership and management skills, access to finance, and investment appetite.

I am in full agreement with my noble friend in wanting more manufacturers to adopt technology that will improve productivity and stimulate growth, such as robotics and automation, and we have programmes that support them to do this. This includes the Made Smarter programme, which has committed almost £200 million in funding to manufacturers—large, small and medium enterprises—to develop new technology solutions and adopt existing tech, including robotics and autonomous systems.

The £24 million Made Smarter adoption programme is available to manufacturing small and medium enterprises in the north-west, the north-east, Yorkshire and the Humber, and the east Midlands and West Midlands regions. The programme provides expert advice, grant funding and leadership training to SMEs to help them adopt robotics, automation and autonomous systems, as well as other industrial digital technologies that can improve productivity and growth.

We are also considering what further to do in this field. We convene a Robotics Growth Partnership, chaired by Professor David Lane and Paul Clarke, which works with robotics and autonomous systems sector leaders across academia and industry to put the UK at the cutting edge of the smart robotics revolution ambition, turbocharging—as we would like to call it—economic productivity and unlocking benefits across society. Last year the Robotics Growth Partnership published a vision for cyber physical infrastructure, and the Government will shortly publish their consultation response on that subject.

The levelling-up mission on R&D, designed to increase the amount of R&D funding outside the greater south-east, and accompanying initiatives such as innovation accelerators, will help to provide additional support to areas with existing expertise in robotics such as the Glasgow City region. The Derry/Londonderry and Strabane region city deal will also see investment in the region’s Centre for Industrial Digitalisation, Robotics and Automation. The Levelling Up Advisory Council has also committed to exploring how to improve the uptake of productivity-enhancing technologies by businesses as part of its work considering regional adoption and diffusion.

I hope that my noble friend will find what I have said a source of some good cheer. The Government are well aware of how important this agenda is, and while at the moment a task force is not thought necessary, should the Government find it desirable to establish a task force in future, it would not be necessary to legislate to establish one. I therefore hope that my noble friend will feel sufficiently reassured to withdraw his amendment.

Elections Bill

Debate between Earl Howe and Baroness Hayman of Ullock
Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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That is a highly hypothetical question. I would be happy to give it consideration. For the moment I have to say that the answer is no, but I will reflect on it.

The other amendment in the noble Baroness’s name, Amendment 212B, seeks to place new obligations on donors to report donations to the Electoral Commission where the aggregate total for the year is over £5,000. Yes, there should be transparency around any significant amount of money funding parties and election campaigns, but that does not mean putting the burden on donors. It is for political parties and candidates—the recipients of the donations, who are familiar with the rules—to keep accounting records and report donations over the relevant thresholds to the Electoral Commission. Placing any unnecessarily bureaucratic responsibility on donors such as individual citizens could lead to a chilling effect and discourage people from making donations.

Amendment 212DA, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, seeks to cap donations to political parties at £10,000 per calendar year. Perhaps inadvertently, it would require that every penny in a collection box be recorded and attributed to someone, effectively spelling an end to small donations. Even more significantly, the Government cannot, on principle, support caps on donations as this would only lead to taxpayers footing the bill for the inevitable funding shortfall. There is absolutely no public support for expanding the level of public funding already available to political parties. Public funds should be focused on delivering world-class public services and levelling up communities across our country.

The noble Lord asked about the recommendations in the report from the Committee on Standards in Public Life. The Government responded to the report published by the CSPL on regulating election finance in September last year. The Elections Bill already contains measures that closely link to recommendations made in that report, such as the new requirement on political parties to declare their assets and liabilities over £500 on registration, and a restriction of third- party campaigning to UK-based or otherwise eligible campaigners. However, as the Government response stated, the recommendations in the report deserve full consideration, and more work must be done to consider the implications and practicalities, which, I hope the noble Lord will acknowledge, are very considerable.

In conclusion, controls on electoral funding and transparency of electoral funding are a key cornerstone of the UK’s electoral system and contribute to a healthy democracy. UK electoral law sets out a stringent regime of donations controls to ensure that only those with a legitimate interest in UK elections can make political donations and that political donations are transparent. The Government absolutely recognise the risk posed by those who wish to evade the rules on donations. That is why there are existing provisions which explicitly prohibit money being funnelled through permissible donors by impermissible donors, and why it is an offence for donors and campaigners to purposefully evade the rules.

It is right that voters and organisations with a legitimate interest in UK elections be able to donate to political parties, candidates and campaigns. Our democracy is strengthened by people donating to campaigns that they believe in. I am, of course, aware that stories about political donations are never far from the newspapers, but rather than being indicative of a broken system, I firmly believe that this is a sign of the system working. The checks that parties and other campaigners are required to carry out and the reports published by the Electoral Commission allow the press and the public to scrutinise political donations. It is very important to balance the need for parties and other campaigners to generate funds against the cost of actually carrying out checks on donations to ensure they come from permissible sources. The current rules are proportionate and achieve that balance. I hope that, on that basis, noble Lords will feel able not to move their amendments when they are reached, and that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, feels able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response to this large group of amendments. In responding to my amendment, he said that there was a Conservative Party manifesto commitment to extend the franchise for overseas electors. My amendment was not about that manifesto commitment; it was about the donations that could then come in through that action. I was not saying that that should not happen. The amendment was specifically related to donations, and that is what I want to come back to now.

I think we can say that we disagree as to whether excessive foreign donations being allowed to come into our politics is a good thing and whether there should be a cap on them. If the Government feel that stopping overseas donations is not an option, in my opinion, we should certainly look at whether we can cap the amounts.

I agree strongly with the first thing the Minister said: the integrity of our electoral law is of the utmost importance. This is why there has been so much concern in this debate over whether that integrity is being undermined by the way in which political donations currently work. I know that the Minister said that the current laws manage this, but it is really disappointing that he does not accept the great concerns that have been raised about how donations can ultimately buy political influence. We must be very careful in our country that we do not tip into the way in which other countries have operated when donations get very large. I just wish that the Government would accept that there is a problem and that it needs to be nipped in the bud. This is an opportunity to legislate for that.

I will finish by saying that a lot of strength of feeling on this issue has been expressed in Committee today. I am sure that we will return to this on Report but, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.